Once every blue moon I come up with a good quote. Most of the time it’s less a result of me being smart than me finding a way to spin someone else’s words just enough so that it sounds like something new. The last time it happened, a quote from The Obstacle is the Way became:
Design a life that lets you come closer to your perfect day, every day.
Since today is a day that’s somewhat antithetical to this idea, it’s a good opportunity to expand on it with a very short exercise in life design: Let’s craft the perfect schedule of your perfect day.
Design Your Life, Not Your Lifestyle
First, I’d like to make a distinction between life design and lifestyle design.
Though often used synonymously, to me lifestyle design has always been more connoted with the amenities and comforts of an increased income.
This is somewhat grounded in how Tim Ferriss originally defined the term in The 4-Hour Workweek:
People don’t want to be millionaires — they want to experience what they believe only millions can buy. […] The question is then, How can one achieve the millionaire lifestyle of complete freedom without first having $1,000,000?
To me, designing your lifestyle is more about creating room in your life to do all the fun things you want to do — and to do them the way you want to. But what if I don’t need a lot of leisure?
What if I’m more concerned with how I spend the time I do work, rather than minimizing it?
The non-obvious trap behind chasing a 4-hour workweek is that achieving it is only meaningful when you have something to fill the void you’ll otherwise fall into.
Designing your life, as opposed to lifestyle, is about that. Whether you achieve the passive income dream or not, you’ll spend a large portion of your life, if not most of it, at some form of work.
That’s not a bad thing. Meaningful work is healthy.
This is where today’s simple exercise comes in. What if you had a vision of work to work towards, rather than just a vision of freedom, leisure, happiness, or some other vague construct? Forget the perfect day. I’m talking about the perfect work day.
The Exercise: Your Perfect Schedule
Imagine you hit the jackpot tomorrow. As a newly minted lottery winner, your entire schedule is cleared from one day to the next.
Don’t like your job? Just stop showing up. Don’t like grocery shopping? Just hire someone.
The perfect schedule is the sheet of paper I’d pull out of my drawer in that situation.
Here’s how to make yours.
Step 1: Write down a 24-hour breakdown of a day.
Start with 12 AM. Then move up until you’ve written down the last hour of the day, 11 PM — 12 AM. You can do this digitally or on paper.
It should look similar to an accountability chart:
Step 2: Add your most desired activity to each hour.
Consider how much time you’ll want for sleep, how much time to eat, a potential commute if you’d like to go to an office, and so on.
Obviously, the one critical requirement is that it’s a work day. What would you work on? For how long? Etc.
- 0–1 AM: Sleep
- 1–2 AM: Sleep
- 2–3 AM: Sleep
- 3–4 AM: Sleep
- 4–5 AM: Sleep
- 5–6 AM: Wake up (depending on sunrise time)
- 6–7 AM: Taking 10 minutes to toss and turn, reading for a minute or two, mini workout, shower
- 7–8 AM: Leave the house and walk 10–20 minutes to an office or workspace, make coffee and a light breakfast, read for 30 minutes
- 8–9 AM: Writing
- 9–10 AM: Writing
- 10–11 AM: Writing
- 11–12 PM: Writing
- 12–1 PM: Lunch with a friend
- 1–2 PM: Catch up on social media and republish an article on Medium
- 2–3 PM: Email
- 3–4 PM: Work on a new and fun project
- 4–5 PM: Work on a new and fun project
- 5–6 PM: Walk to the pool, swim
- 6–7 PM: Walk home, dinner with Mrs. Right
- 7–8 PM: Finish dinner, watch a movie or TV show
- 8–9 PM: Movie/TV, prepare for bed, read
- 9–10 PM: Reading
- 10–11 PM: Sleep
- 11–12 AM: Sleep
Obviously, not every day will be the same, but I’ve always been happiest when it didn’t matter to me whether it was a weekday or the weekend.
I do think in a life dominated by freedom, most days will be alike.
Don’t obsess about the exact structure of the day itself, it’ll change often, and it should. Then what is the point of this exercise? The devil is, as usual, in the details.
If you’ve seen exercises similar to this one, the conclusion will likely have been:
“Great! You’ve now got your perfect day, now go make your current day more like it.”
That’s a mistake based on the typical shortcut-thinking of most success advice. Look at the quote again:
Do you notice the difference?
The perfect schedule is not about designing your current life so that it’s more like it. It’s about designing your life in a way that moves you closer to it in the long term.
Your current day might be nothing like the ideal one you imagine. Maybe you work night shifts, but want to manage a team, or be a freelancer. Maybe you sit in meetings all day, but would like a writing schedule like me.
So what good does it to add a sprinkle of perfect to your day if it doesn’t bring you closer to making it a reality? That’s just make-pretend.
How can I tweak my current schedule, if ever so slightly, so that it may bring me closer to my perfect schedule down the line?
This might be a passion project, sending out resumés every day for an hour, or picking up activities with a high return-on-time. You can even adjust your schedule on the fly, to compensate for obstacles.
For example, today I had to take a one-hour commute to a part of school I usually never go to, to sit in a room for eight hours, because seminar attendance was mandatory. It was cut short, but a significant detour away from my perfect day nonetheless.
However, that doesn’t stop me from doing something that’ll move me closer to never having to go there again eventually.
Today, that was writing this post. What will it be for you? How can you design your life today, so that you’ll move closer to your dream with every tomorrow?